Washington Territory

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Territory of Washington
Organized incorporated territory of the United States



Seal of Washington Territory of Washington Territory

Seal of Washington Territory
Capital Olympia
Government Organized incorporated territory
Governor List
 •  Split from Oregon Territory March 2, 1853
 •  Idaho Territory split off March 4, 1863
 •  Statehood November 11, 1889

The Territory of Washington was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from March 2, 1853, until November 11, 1889, when the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Washington. It was created from the portion of the Oregon Territory north of the lower Columbia River and north of the 46th parallel east of the Columbia. At its largest extent, it also included the entirety of modern Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming, before attaining its final boundaries in 1863.


Agitation in favor of self-government developed in the regions of the Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River in 1851–1852.[1] A group of prominent settlers from the Cowlitz and Puget Sound regions met on November 25, 1852, at the "Monticello Convention" in present-day Longview, to draft a petition to the United States Congress calling for a separate territory north of the Columbia River. After gaining approval from the Oregon territorial government, the proposal was sent to the federal government.[2]

The bill to establish the territory, H.R. 348, was reported in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Charles E. Stuart on January 25, 1853.[3] Representative Richard H. Stanton argued that the proposed name—the "Territory of Columbia"—might be confused for the District of Columbia, and suggested a name honoring George Washington instead.[4] The bill was thus amended with the name "Washington", though not without some debate,[5] and passed in the House on February 10, passed in the Senate on March 2, and signed by President Millard Fillmore on the same day.[6] The argument against naming the territory Washington came from senator Alexander Evans of Maryland; he countered that while there were no states named Washington, multiple counties, cities, and towns were named such and could be the source of confusion itself. Evans felt that the proposed new territory's name should reflect local native terminology. He stated it would be more appropriate to give the territory "some beautiful Indian name".[7] The decision was contrary to the wishes of residents, and local papers reported mixed feeling from citizens,[8] though the general reception of the renaming was positive

Isaac Stevens, who was appointed the territory's first governor, declared Olympia to be the territorial capital. Stevens was also integral in the drafting and negotiation of treaties with native bands in the Washington Territory.[9] A territorial legislature was elected and first met in February 1854,[10] and the territorial supreme court issued its first decision later in the year.[11] Columbia Lancaster was elected as the first delegate to U.S. Congress.

The original boundaries of the territory included all of the present day State of Washington, as well as northern Idaho and Montana west of the continental divide. On the admission of the State of Oregon to the union in 1859, the eastern portions of the Oregon Territory, including southern Idaho, portions of Wyoming west of the continental divide, and a small portion of present-day Ravalli County, Montana were annexed to the Washington Territory.[12] The southeastern tip of the territory (in present-day Wyoming) was sent to Nebraska Territory on March 2, 1861.[13][14]

In 1863, the area of Washington Territory east of the Snake River and the 117th meridian was reorganized as part of the newly created Idaho Territory, leaving the territory within the current boundaries of Washington State, which was admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889 as the 42nd US state.

On choosing capitol: When choosing the location of a state's capitol multiple factors must be accounted for, including but not limited to, population growth and density, and accounting for other cities and towns in the area.[15] Prior to statehood, multiple townships in the Washington Territory were contending against each other for the place of capitol, in the case of that eventuality. Among the top contenders for the title, besides Olympia, were Steilacoom, Vancouver, and Port Townsend. Even after Olympia was chosen as the capitol, contention for the location of the capitol never truly ended until completion of construction of the capitol building.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weber, Dennis P. (Fall 2003). "The Creation of Washington: Securing Democracy North of the Columbia". Columbia Magazine. 17 (3): 23–34. Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  2. ^ "Settlers met at Monticello to sign a petition asking Congress to create a separate territory north of the Columbia River". Washington History. Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved July 19, 2011.
  3. ^ Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Volume 48, p. 185, January 25., 1853
  4. ^ McClelland, John M., Jr. (Summer 1988). "Almost Columbia, Triumphantly Washington". Columbia Magazine. 2 (2): 3–11. Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2011.
  5. ^ The Congressional Globe, 32nd Congress, 2nd Session, p. 555. Rep. Alexander Evans argued that the name "Washington" was as confusing as "Columbia". In a later amendment to H.R. 348, a senator offered the name "Washingtonia".
  6. ^ Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Volume 48, p. 397, March 3, 1853.
  7. ^ Brier J, Warren. "How the Washington Territory Got Its Name." The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 51(1960): 13-15. https://www.jstor.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/stable/40487423
  8. ^ McClellan, John. "Almost Columbia, Triumphantly Washington". Columbia The Magazine of Northwest History 2(1988).
  9. ^ Kluger, Richard. The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek. New York: Random House Inc, 2011
  10. ^ Oldham, Kit (January 15, 2003). "Governor Isaac Stevens selects Olympia as capital of Washington Territory on November 28, 1853". HistoryLink.
  11. ^ Fuller, Tim. ""The Most Accurate and Useful Law Books Possible": Milestones of Official Case Reporting in Washington". Washington State Courts.
  12. ^ "Act of Congress Admitting Oregon to the Union". Oregon Blue Book. February 14, 1859.
  13. ^ "The Statistician and Economist". The Statistician and Economist. San Francisco: L.P. McCarty. 19: 59. 1897–1898.
  14. ^ Johnson, Harrison (1880). "Chapter I: Historical". Johnson's History of Nebraska. Omaha: Henry Gibson. p. 41.
  15. ^ Beardsley, Arthur S. (1941). "Early Efforts to Locate the Capital of Washington Territory". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 32 (3): 239–287.
  16. ^ Beardsley, Arthur S. (1941). "Later Attempts to Relocate the Capital of Washington". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly. 32 (4): 401–407.

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